at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

The Art of Exile Talk


The Art of Exile: the Micropolitics, Aesthetics and Staged Authenticities of Tai Dance

April 23, 2014 2:00-3:30 pm
Tokioka Room – Moore Hall 319

Dance, song and movement aesthetics are often overlooked in studies of war, religion and diaspora. Yet synchronized rhythmic movement promotes group coherence within all cultures, religions and nations, and holds potential for expressing political resistance. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Northern Thailand amongst Tai migrants from the Shan State in Burma/Myanmar, this talk attends to the micropolitics and staged authenticities of Tai dance (Fon Tai). I delineate the ways in which dance is a staged aesthetic, always mediated by the politics of practice, geopolitical space and the grammars of modernity. In particular, I examine performance art in the daily lives of Tai peoples – as it is in the assemblage of song, dance and discourse, that political organizations and affiliations are made. Notions of traditional, versus modern dance, harken a politics of dance that ‘others’ and excludes dances and dancers deemed as non-modern. Dance is an oft-used source of “folk practice,” summoned in situations when identity becomes important markers of belonging, power or exchange. Materialist and decolonial readings of dance promises to pluralize the aesthetic regime of arts, whereby some dance forms are not privileged over others. Tai dance as it is situated in Upland Southeast Asia, is performed at once as an exoticized touristic encounter in capitalist spaces and also as a way to evoke the Tai nation while in exile. Through the work of dance ethnography, we see that forms of dance that may be deemed ‘traditional’ by some moderns, are in fact being used in new and innovative ways.

Tanisebro Tani Sebro is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. Tani Sebro is a researcher and PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (UHM), where she teaches courses in Political Science and Anthropology. Her most recent research centers on conceptions of space, aesthetic expression and the production counter-discourses to the nation by clandestine Burmese immigrants residing in Thailand. She has been working on issues related to refugees in the Thai-Burma border zone since 2005, and has worked as an Immigration Consultant to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Cultural Anthropology from San Francisco State University where she studied Anthropology and Human Rights, and a Master’s Degree in Anthropology from the UHM.